EU law ‘veto powers’ to be unveiled

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National parliaments will get new powers to block “unwanted” EU law as part of the UK’s renegotiations with Brussels, Downing Street sources say.

To trigger the so-called “red card”, at least 55% of the EU’s national parliaments would have to join forces.

The measure is expected to be included in the draft deal being presented by EU Council president Donald Tusk later.

The Vote Leave campaign said it was a “trivial” proposal which would do little to restore power to the UK.

But Downing Street sources said David Cameron had “delivered on a manifesto commitment” to secure the “explicit agreement”, which could be activated up to 12 weeks after a new law had been proposed.

Mr Tusk’s draft agreement, to be put forward on Tuesday, follows months of talks between UK and EU officials.

It has not received final agreement from other EU leaders, who will gather for a summit on 18 and 19 February. If agreement is secured at the summit, it could pave the way for the UK’s in/out referendum to be held in June.

But Mr Tusk warned of “outstanding issues” as he announced his plan to circulate the draft “new settlement”.

These are thought to include objections to Mr Cameron’s bid to curb the welfare entitlement of EU migrants.

He has proposed denying in-work benefits to all EU migrants until they have been in the UK for four years, saying this would reduce high levels of immigration to the UK.

Little used

EU leaders rejected this idea but suggested an “emergency brake” which the UK could use for up to four years.

The UK could use this to deny in-work benefits to EU migrants but it would have to prove public services were under excessive strain and would need the approval of other EU states.

The proposal was to allow the UK to be able to impose the brake within three months of applying for it but Mr Cameron wants it triggered immediately after the EU referendum. He also says there should be no time limit on its use.

Another of Mr Cameron’s demands is for stronger powers for national parliaments to resist EU law.

Under the current “yellow card” system, introduced in 2009, parliaments can get together to formally accuse the European Commission of overstepping its remit, and the commission can decide to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal.

However, it has been little used so far, with only a small number of EU laws attracting attention from a substantial number of parliaments.

The treaty rules only oblige the commission to provide a written response to complaints, justifying why a set of proposals meet the bloc’s rules on “subsidiarity”.

Downing Street sources said the new proposal would strengthen this power and ensure the commission “cannot just ignore the will of national parliamentarians”.

If 55% of parliaments club together, they could force proposed laws to be stopped altogether or amended.


If a challenge was made under the system, each parliamentary chamber would get a “vote”, with single-chamber parliaments allowed two votes. In the UK, this means the House of Commons and House of Lords would get one vote each.

Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott dismissed the proposal.

“These gimmicks have been ignored by the EU before and will be ignored again as they will not be in the EU treaty,” he said.

Although the referendum does not need to be held until the end of 2017, it has been reported that Downing Street favours a poll on 23 June.

The SNP has launched a cross-party campaign attacking the idea of a June poll, which it says would be “disrespectful” to elections taking place in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, London and across England in May.

Labour, Conservative, DUP, SDLP and Plaid Cymru MPs have signed the Early Day Motion, tabled by the SNP’s Stephen Gethins.

David Cameron’s four main aims for renegotiation

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  • Integration/Sovereignty: Allowing Britain to opt out from the EU’s founding ambition to forge an “ever closer union” of the peoples of Europe so it will not be drawn into further political integration. Giving greater powers to national parliaments to block or scrap EU legislation.
  • Competitiveness: To extend the single market and cut down on excessive regulation – commonly known by critics as “Brussels bureaucracy”.
  • Benefits: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits and housing until they have been resident for four years. But the European Commission, which runs the EU, has said such a move would be “highly problematic” and the focus has now turned to the UK having an “emergency brake” which could stop in-work benefits to EU migrants for four years.
  • Eurozone v the rest: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not disadvantaged. The UK also wants safeguards that it will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts

Guide: All you need to know about the referendum

Referendum timeline: What will happen when?

QA: What does Britain want from Europe?

More: BBC News EU referendum special

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